If the coverage of the London Olympics has ignited your wanderlust for Rio 2016, there are some things you should know. Sure, NBC has Bob Costas telling you what happened at last night’s race/meet/game, but he’s stuck in a studio. I spent the last six days running around London, and between sporting events and general international merriment (aka booze), I picked up on some must-know knowledge for any Olympics spectator.
1. The basics: it’s hard as hell to get tickets… unless you’re willing to pay. A lot.
If you’re lucky enough to live in the host country, you can go through a lottery and get tickets at face value. If you don’t you have to be prepared to plan ahead a year out, have your VISA card ready (only form of payment accepted–but it’s everywhere you want to be!) and go in for a Hunger Games style fight at the allotment that your country gets.
2. It’s not as crowded as you think!
The London Underground runs smoothly and thousands of volunteers have stepped up to help keep crowds moving. High five to the Brits for keeping the whole thing civilized.
3. There is a lot more to the host city than the sporting events.
Countries from all over the world have set up hospitality houses to help promote tourism. Some highlights? The Dutch house is sponsored by Heineken (predictable), the Swiss house smells like cheese, and the Russians built a promotional area for Sochi 2014 (don’t bother going, they had no booze). The Germans boast beer and pretzels, and when I was there a band was playing hits from 90s bands like SWV. The Belgians have taken over the oh-so-exclusive Inner Temple area, which is normally closed off to the public. There were food trucks, wine bars and beers, not to mention the crazy dance party that ends at about 2 am. Denmark took over a pub on the Thames offering a sick view. Wondering about the good old US of A? Our home country has a location closed off to the public… except for the store. Capitalism FTW!
4. If you like food, don’t bother trying to eat in Olympic park.
Sure, they built the world’s biggest McDonald’s and about a million stands, but trust me, you will be hard-pressed to find a short line. Or if you do see a short line, odds are they are out of food (the Mexican stand was out of cheese, salsa and pork–so they basically just had tortillas for sale). Do yourself a solid and eat before you go.
5. You think American fans go hard? Not so much.
Without American football and baseball, the only really popular sports in the games are basketball and hockey. However, you know what the number two sport is in Poland? Volleyball. We’re talking face paint and jerseys for a bunch of tall dudes swatting a ball over a net. The Danish go nuts for sailing events. The Lithuanians went so far as to spend an entire basketball game booing every single USA player (whatever, we won anyway). And the British will turn off Michael Phelps last race ever to watch a guy they never heard of do the long jump.
6. As you might have guessed, broadcasts in other countries don’t really care about most of the American athletes.
You guys, they don’t even do montages about people’s friends or families or their giant dinner-plate sized hands or talk about the cost of their diamond grill. The BBC commentators, while focusing on the Brits, are incredibly polite, and applaud even last place efforts. Let’s face it, when it comes to the Olympics, most USA fans just jump on the band wagon of any gold medalist and then forget about them until they get a DUI.
7. Nobody does the traditional “stomp, stomp, clap” version of “We Will Rock You.”
Every other country does a “clap, clap, lift your arms in the air like you are at a tent revival.” It just feels wrong.
8. Did you know the Olympics have half-time shows?
At basketball, they bring out these weird cheerleader types and a jump rope act to entertain the crowd while people fight to get on a kiss cam during time outs.
9. It’s not easy to meet an Olympian.
The athletes live in their dorm-like village and aren’t allowed much contact with the outside world until after they finish competing. And when they do, they tend to attend exclusive VIP events, like Ryan Lochte and the boys hitting up the infamous Chinawhite club. But… you just might get lucky. A gold medal-winning swimmer from the USA happened to be standing next me while I watched Usain Bolt win the 100 meter race at a house party. Go figure.
10. Outside of America, nobody really cares about McKayla Maroney and her fabulous face.
In fact, the BBC pronounced her name “Mick-Kie-La” during the vault finals. I blame him for her silver.